Member of Team AEDC plays role in New Mexico COVID response

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks

A member of the Arnold Engineering Development Complex team was among the several hundred who ensured hundreds of thousands had access to protective equipment and vital resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For nearly two months, Ryan Black, acquisition program manager with the 704th Test Group, a unit of AEDC based at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, was tasked with facilitating the delivery of food, water and personal protective equipment, or PPE, to residents of New Mexico.

It was through his service in the New Mexico National Guard that Black was introduced to the daunting assignment. Black is attached to the 150th Special Operations Wing, a unit of the New Mexico Air National Guard stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

The New Mexico National Guard was activated by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to conduct a statewide COVID-19 response effort after federal funding for support was approved.

Black went on orders with the Guard in May 2020, around two months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Over the next 55 days, he served as one of the officers in charge of the Joint Operations Center. There were approximately 20 Guardsmen in the JOC covering three different shifts. There were also a few hundred Guardsmen on orders at various locations throughout the state.

“We coordinated with numerous federal and state employees to ensure PPE, food and water was available to those needing it,” Black said.

Black said the delivery of the resources was important and his involvement in ensuring their delivery was personally rewarding. 

“A lot of New Mexico residents, specifically those in rural areas, still live without access to amenities many of us take for granted. In some cases, medical care is also lacking,” he said. “Many of the PPE, food and water deliveries went to these individuals. Providing masks, thermometers, testing kits, and food and water was very well-received, and I believe they saved many lives.

“We also had a large Guard contingency focused on cleaning high-risk facilities such as nursing homes and medical clinics. I joined the Guard to do stuff like this, and I know my fellow Guardsmen feel the same way.”

Items were delivered by helicopter and truck to a collection point in Albuquerque. Food, water and PPE was deployed from this location to towns and cities across New Mexico as needs became apparent.

After receiving information on where items were needed, the JOC would coordinate with the New Mexico Emergency Operations Center before reaching out to contacts at the end location to coordinate pickup and drop-off specifics.

By the time Black came off orders at the end of June, the Guard had distributed across New Mexico more than 4 million articles of PPE, 10,000 gallons of water and 2,000 tons of food.

Black mentioned another standout number. By the end of June, the New Mexico National Guard had completed more than 2,000 distribution missions throughout the state.

“This was a successful effort,” Black said. “We filled a gap and provided the support needed regardless. Many of my fellow Guardsmen put their own health in harm’s way when they were cleaning infected facilities and delivering PPE and test kits to areas in need.”

Although the mission is nearing completion, it is ongoing and many Guardsmen remain on orders, meaning the number of PPE items, gallons of water and tonnage of food distributed by the National Guard have only increased since Black’s last mission.

Black described the response to the COVID-19 pandemic as an “unprecedented situation.” While lessons were learned throughout the process, Black said all involved were committed to the successful accomplishment of the mission.

“This was a huge operation where the Air and Army National Guard came together to meet the needs of the residents of New Mexico,” he said. “I am proud to have played a small part in making it successful.”